Clarence

by ...

John Degen

 

I.

The runway approach on days of southeast
shadows across acres of the dead beneath
a long pine lawn. Generations

of half wild rabbits, manged and
skittish; pursued through their dumb finite
days by screaming birds. Bolting

from the dive, skin contracted for a kill.
Never comes but once at night,
in cold murderous collapse; untold rabbits

flinging themselves through snowed hedgerows.
Dash 8 in a horizontal flatspin – total stall;
forty-nine souls slamming on top of one

watching television, or using the toilet, or
checking the expiry on the orange juice
at the back of the fridge; it was never clear

from the newspapers what he was up to
when all that exploded from within
and jerked him from life like an unknown

snail scraped from the seabed.
For centuries before, the rabbits of Cheektowaga,
of Amherst and Clarence, sat at the ready,

twitching and scenting
and fearing this disaster or another;
all that modernity they twitched

and witnessed the parceling out,
the measuring off. The foxes all but
disappeared and in their place, some unknowable

anxiety.

A wind sprang from the east, an idea of rain,
sudden, pervading the air. 1

II.

She plants a full garden, enough
at least for one woman and an
occasional visitor, in a box

four feet by four feet, of cedar planks
from the Lowes on Niagara Falls
Boulevard; hides it as well as she can

from the windborne trash, and rabbits;
surrounds everything in marigolds,
because there is magic in a fence

of yellow orange flowers. And,
while she is away, the last frost
visits her yard like a friendly stranger;

a thief undeterred by fences or magic.
Does not take; but takes all the same.
While she shops once more at the

Home Depot off Galleria Drive, buying again
the new shoots of leek and eggplant and
pepper, she stops and looks directly above

the high industrial shelves of shovels and soil
and rain barrels, watches the final approach
of a Southwest flight from Vegas, the

surprising grime of an airplane’s belly
pushed at the ground by a backdrop of
grey cloud, and no more frost. It is a promise.

III.

The cardiologist suggests walking will
prolong a foreshortened retirement, so
he walks every morning his old route

for tobacco, now chewing gum for
the nerves. Formerly random firings
of doom across synaptic gaps once damn

blissfully dulled by afternoon martinis.
Yardarm shadows slip beneath the wheels
of the bike he creaks, handsfree, along

streets quiet with waiting. He’s learned
the artful discipline of waiting; how it can
be its own intoxication when each moment’s

departure is a finger up the ass of death. What
his lieutenant told him about sitting out the
mortars, at which he’d felt such a warm collapse

of relief he worried he might have pissed himself.
So the pretty young heart doctor tells him
to walk, and he asks how far? And can I ride

as well ma’am? Will it make a difference?
Will it hold off the advance another few weeks
or months he can fill with tracks around

the cluster of houses in his block. Because
he is mapping the rabbits; logging each
sighting on a schematic pinned to his

basement panel walls. He has named each one,
worked out the complex genealogy. He believes
he has the coordinates of burrows and the daily

migrations from garden to garden. One mid-morning
walk; one afternoon ride; a second walk at dusk and
the final piece, the one he keeps to himself

slipping from the bed before she wakes and riding
the pre-dawn pavement. Stopped by the local
cops, he taps the ticker and winks, makes a joke

about donuts and coffee, says nothing about
rabbits. He wants to leave this to his wife.
He wants to give her this.

IV.

they will leave their cars at the barricades
and walk in through backyards and
gardens transformed, pockets of the maze

smelling their way, and listening
for the hiss of firehoses, the rattle of
engines running the pumps; radio squawk.

It will be cold enough to hurt them,
to damage the skin grown loose
around their eyes while they spent lifetimes

looking at nothing nearly as interesting
as this compound fracture of a neighbourhood
and the tangle of limbs and luggage ablaze.

The firefighters, all volunteers, see
their neighbours push forward,
sense the danger to everything fragile

in a life of Sunday football; there
in the middle of it all, somehow
undamaged, sits a deep freeze full

of meat – ground turkey and halved
rabbits for stew. It will take days to chip
the ice away enough to open it.

 

 

 

 

 

Libra, Don DeLillo

 

 

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